There are not many cheerful faces in Mumbai’s Panchratna building or the adjacent Jewel building in Opera House which house offices of the ‘who’s who’ of the Indian diamond industry.
Diamond exports have declined over two consecutive quarters, due to slack demand from the US, India’s largest diamond market. With margins declining, many small diamond cutting and polishing units have closed down and hundreds of workers have been fired. Apart from a weak global market, the Mumbai train blasts and the Surat floods have also hard hit the domestic industry.
American consumers are not buying as much as they did in the past due to rising oil prices, climbing interest rates and competition from other luxury goods. The world’s largest diamond marketing company, Diamond Trading Corporation (DTC), the marketing arm of De Beers, is now trying to revive the depressed market.
DTC has decided to invest $30 million in various marketing campaigns over and above the $200 million that has already been allocated. Leading the battle to win the consumer mind (and wallet) is Israel-born Varda Shine who last year took over as managing director of DTC and is on her first visit to India after taking office. S
hine has a tough battle ahead. According to diamond intelligence brief, in the first half of 2006, DTC sold some $3.252 billion worth of rough diamonds, which is barely 1% more than its sales in the first half of 2005.
Where does India figure in the De Beers larger scheme of things? As the world’s third largest diamond jewellery consumer nation, India is closely linked to the fortunes of De Beers. Half of the worldwide sales of DTC are to Indian companies otherwise known as sight holders. Yet, the real picture in India is still not clear. Hard statistics on sale of branded jewellery are not available. According to DTC, Nakshatra is an Rs 100 crore brand and Arisia has sold 5000 stones of over 1 carat every year since it was launched in 2001. That’s about the only information that DTC is willing to part with as far as sales of branded jewellery are concerned.
There is severe liquidity crunch in the Indian diamond industry as the industry thrives on giving extended period of credits. With sagging sales and natural calamities, payments have been delayed. All hopes are now pinned on the upcoming Christmas season as demand from the US normally picks up a couple of months before Christmas. “If we do not have a good Christmas, it will be a disaster,” said Sanjay Kothari, former chairman of the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion council (GJEPC).
Shine is hopeful that the Indian diamond industry will survive what she considers is a just a blip. But for this, she advises that the industry should have a more evolved business model. A new strategy to take on competition needs to be evolved which is not just price centric but takes in to account different factors. “Emotions need to be kept out,” says Shine. Though she does not say in so many words, the Indian diamond industry is still family oriented business where family relations are given the first priority. This is changing though with more and more diamond business houses going global with professional management at the helm.
It is just not within the country that the diamond industry is facing problems. The real problem for the Indian diamond industry will emerge from African nations over what is known as the “beneficiation” process. It essentially means that diamond producing nations, especially in Africa, are no longer content with just mining the rough diamonds. They want to cut and polish it too, which is what India has been doing for a long time.
“When one has an unemployment rate of 30% (referring to some African nations) and when you compare it to one million persons that India employs in the diamond industry, it is a problem. What we are seeing is that diamond producing nations are now asking for a share of their pie,” says Shine.
There are fears that this would essentially mean that the Indian diamond industry would be left polishing small stones while the best and the bigger stones would be cut and polished in either the producing country or in Israel or Antwerp.
As for now, after the Surat floods, DTC has said that it would allow its Indian sight holders to defer payments till after Diwali. The move was prompted by the extensive flood damage that cutting shops in India’s main processing centre of Surat had suffered recently.